For me, the highlights of the conference were presentations by David Beckman, president of Bread for the World (bread.org), Tony Compolo (tonycampolo.org) and Jim Wallis of Sojourners and Call to Renewal (calltorenewal.com). In each of these presentations, I noted the lack of mention of persons with disability in their calls to address issues of poverty. I spoke up in one of the sessions, and the speaker graciously replied that had overlooked that population, and not just in his presentation. I replied that the Church has overlooked that population.
It was then fun for the rest of the conference having people come to me saying, "You were the guy who raised the disability question!" Of course it was fun to have made such a contribution, but the fact that others resonated with my comment was very encouraging. One of the above speakers also indicated close personal experience with disability and how he felt that the church had done a good job in his regard. I replied that I was glad, but inwardly thought, "C'mon, of course your family member will have a positive experience, because of who you are." That is not to diminish what might have been a great church program, but sometimes persons in leadership think their experience is everyone's experience. I remember a university administrator indicating that he had always had a good and quick service from the campus' duplicating center when asked about them. Those of us in the audience replied, "Of course you did." He quickly got the connection that his experience was probably not the same as the rest of us as students, staff, etc.
But I am hopeful, and I am encouraged after attending the conference.
A small group attended my session on network assessment (which included a good dose of propaganda about church and disability) and seemed in agreement with the importance of the church as a network for adults with disability. A few figures from my presentation
- 3-4% of persons with cognitive disability have a "neighbor" without disability
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- 10% have nobody
- those in networks are largly paid staff and family
- from Robertson et al. (2004)
Apparently few people with disability have a neighbor. But then, you might respond, "Who is my neighbor?"
Well . . .